After being given a No. 5 seed by the North Coast Section seeding committee, the 22-1 Big Five Conference and Dick Niclai Tournament champion Del Norte boys’ varsity basketball team took the court at Thunen Gymnasium Wednesday night, opening the North Coast Section Division IV playoffs against the No. 12 seed Middletown Mustangs.
Although the Warriors came away with a 56-43 victory and, in doing so, advanced to the quarterfinal round, Wednesday contest was by no means a one-sided affair, particularly in the second half.
Both teams came out of the gate with noticeable playoff jitters, as the two sides exchanged turnovers on the first four possessions of the contest before the Warriors finally got things rolling. The home team scored the first 11 points of the evening and appeared to be in cruise control, but the Mustangs responded with a surge of their own to keep things well within reach at 21-12 after one quarter.
The Warriors extended their lead to 26-12 in the early moments of the second quarter before once again the Mustangs responded, cutting the deficit to 27-17 before the Warriors closed the half on a 9-3 run to take a seemingly comfortable 36-20 lead into the locker room at halftime.
However, the home was anything but comfortable in the third quarter, as the Mustangs extended their defense beyond the top of the key, forcing the Warriors to play catch along the perimeter and jumping into passing lanes to create turnovers. The Mustangs weren’t just creating turnovers, they were turning those Warrior miscues into transition baskets at their own offensive end of the floor, as the once 16-point lead was suddenly cut to 38-28, thus forcing a Warrior timeout.
“They’re scrambling on defense trying to make something happen and we’re playing right into their hands,” Warrior coach Marc Slayton said during the stoppage. “When we stand around and spectate, we’re not very good. Show ball and attack the basket, let’s go fellas.”
The message didn’t seem to get through, as the Warriors scored just four points on 2-of-12 shooting from the floor, while the Mustangs were playing with a renewed sense of confidence as they found themselves right back in the game, trailing just 38-32 at the 1:25 mark of the third period.
That would be as close as the Mustangs would come for the remainder of the evening though, as the Warriors got back to being themselves in the fourth quarter in helping build what had been a 16-point lead at intermission. Even with the resurgence, the Mustangs were still hanging around until an Anthony Slayton 3-point field goal with 3:07 remaining in the fourth quarter gave the Warriors a 51-38 cushion and all but ended what was an exciting evening of basketball for any number of reasons.
Slayton led the Warriors with a team-high 20 points, 10 of those coming in the fourth quarter. Omar Banuelos scored 16 points despite being in early foul trouble, while Kobe Mitchell scored eight of his 10 points in the second half in addition to applying defensive pressure to the Mustangs guards on the perimeter all evening long.